Tasmania has nineteen National Parks covering in excess of 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres). The vast majority of protected land is in the near inaccessible south-west wilderness up to the central highlands and iconic Cradle Mountain. The most famous coastal National Park is of course Freycinet and its pristine beach of Wineglass Bay. As a child I remember our big old blue canvas tent being thrown in the boot of the car, with a weekend of supplies, and heading for Bakers Beach in the lesser known Asbestos Range National Park. Today if you scroll through the list of National Parks, Asbestos Range National Park is nowhere to be found, so what has happened to this childhood destination?
The Asbestos Range National Park came into being in 1976. It is on the central-north coast, a little over an hour drive north-west of Launceston and about half an hour east of Devonport. The National Park’s coastline spans Point Griffiths to West Head, taking in Bakers Beach, Badger Head and Badger Beach. Inland over the dunes fresh water lagoons and lowland plains are home to an abundance of wildlife. The landscape rises up almost 400 metres above sea level at Point Vision and along the Asbestos Range on the edge of the National Park.
While asbestos was never mined within the Asbestos Range the name came about because small scale mining of asbestos and other minerals did occur within the region. Originally 3330 hectares were recognised for conservation as a National Park, and presumably because the range was the most notable topographical feature of the area, the name Asbestos Range National Park came into being. By the late ’90s the tragic effects of asbestos mining was well and truly in the public eye. It was decided the name was a deterrent for visitors. In May 1999 the National Park became the first in Tasmania to be known by its pre-European name. Long before European arrival Tasmanian Aboriginal people have called the area between Badger Head and West Head, Narawntapu (pronunciation here) and so it is now, Narawntapu National Park. Still the same National Park from my childhood but with a new name acknowledging the first inhabitants of the region.
Within the National Park there remains physical evidence of Aboriginal people having lived in the area on a permanent basis. While major investigations have not taken place middens and artefact scatterings have been located. The Parks and Wildlife Service consider the area to be of “high archeological sensitivity and significance”. George Bass (with Matthew Flinders) in 1798 explored the coastline on board The Norfolk and he recorded in his journal sighting huts built around what is now the eastern end of the National Park. It is clear the settlement history of the region did not begin a few hundred years ago but thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years ago.
It was the first half of the 1800s that Europeans made their mark on the land. Initially George Hall became a landholder buying 960 acres of Crown Land in 1838. It became known as Spring Lawn and the land now within the National Park still bears this name. Mr Hall arrived in Hobart in 1830, the son of a British Army Major based in India, and was appointed the superintendent to the hulks chain-gang. That is, managing the worst of the worst convicts whose home behind bars was in the dilapidated hulks of converted tall ships. He moved north in 1834 living around the district of what is now Deloraine taking up farming before his move to Spring Lawn.
With the assistance of convict labour George Hall set about turning Spring Lawn into a profitable agricultural venture. Marshlands were drained and potatoes, oats and wheat were planted. A house was built, and in the short term Mr Hall’s endeavours proved financially rewarding. Irishman, James Fenton, a farmer and notable historian (author of A History of Tasmania From its Discovery in 1642 to the Present Day) became a neighbour of Mr Hall where he “…built a cottage, grew a few potatoes, and ran stock, under the shadow of Badger Head” (The North West Post, Aug 29, 1906). By 1844 though business had turned sour for Mr Hall and Spring Lawn was on the market, to be sold at auction, “…the auctioneer finds himself quite inadequate to the task of describing the various natural beauties and many advantages this estate possesses…” (Launceston Examiner, Jan 27, 1844). It appears a Mr George Baker was the highest bidder and therefore became the new owner of Spring Lawn.
The Baker family continued to work the land for about seventy years with the property
being passed on to George’s son Edwin. Their time as the custodians of Spring Lawn did not go without incident or media attention. George Baker in 1853 sheltered and assisted the escape from Van Diemen’s Land of John Mitchel, an Irish Nationalist, who had been sentenced to transportation for treason. There is evidence to suggest both George and his son Edwin went bankrupt on separate occasions yet managed to retain the property. Edwin was arrested and, “charged with having, at Beaconsfield, on Feb. 27, feloniously administered noxious drugs to one Sarah Price, with intent to produce abortion” (The Tasmanian, Mar 17, 1888). Some years later Edwin again made the local papers after he had his brother arrested, “…for presenting a revolver at him… over an old family quarrel…” (Tasmanian News, Jan 3, 1899). Bakers Beach, the main beach of Narawntapu National Park is named after them as is the lesser known Bakers Point.
Around about 1914, Spring Lawn came into the ownership of the Addison family. It seems John and his second wife Blanche took over the property from the Bakers. Back in 1887 Edwin Baker’s brother James married a Martha Addison, whether there is a connection here I am uncertain and will leave further investigation to any interested descendants. The Addisons certainly resided at Spring Lawn well into the 1940s. Two daughters of Mr and Mrs Addison, Hazel and Gladys, are noted for their contribution to the Port Sorell CWA Branch Ball, “A fruit cake made and donated by Misses H. and G. Addison, ‘Spring Lawn’…” (Advocate, Jun 26, 1945). While the routine of farm life carried on Bakers Beach was becoming a destination for high-speed adventure seekers.
In 1926 a group of Victorian
and Tasmanian motor cyclists made their way onto Bakers Beach to cruise the long flat sandy coastline. Four years later the Tasmanian Motor Cycle Club held its first state championships on the beach. Events, including national championships and speed record attempts, continued for many years after. The most notable was the Australian land speed record attempted by Austin ‘Aussie’ Miller in 1961. Mr Miller, a racing enthusiast, had a vehicle but not with the horse power required to achieve the feat. A 400hp corvette engine was procured from a boat which had recently broken a water speed record in Victoria. By all accounts the huge engine was not at all compatible with the small car. Somehow it all came together on the day and a new record of 164 miles per hour was achieved! (A full account of the record attempt can be read here.)
An impressive history for what is now a stunning National Park. Today it is entirely a place of relaxation and one of the best opportunities to see up close the amazing native wildlife of Tasmania. There is plenty of walking, of the not too arduous kind, and the lagoons are a haven for water birds. Camping, motor homes and day visitors are all provided for. The Parks and Wildlife Visitors Centre is open seven days and has all the local information you may require.
Further reading if you haven’t already: Narawntapu National Park (Part 2) – some adventure.